For over a decade, Stephen A. Smith has been a fixture of ESPN programming. Amazingly, it’s only been five years since he became a permanent host on First Take. I know, I can hardly believe it myself. But from 2012 until mid-2016, those were long, hard, cruel years, where for hours each morning, Smith and human bad opinions machine Skip Bayless would go around and around in circles, attempting to out-hot-take one another while Stephen A.’s “incredulous” voice reached wine-glass-shattering octaves.
Bayless parted ways with ESPN in April of 2016 and went to a whole new cesspool. Eventually First Take found a new guy to sit opposite Smith, as they tapped prodigal son Max Kellerman. It took some time for Stephen A. to adjust to having to fend off sane takes, but in the year 2017, he finally came into his own.
Divorced from Bayless — a man who has never once believed any of his own horrible opinions and crafts each kernel of sports take specifically to piss people off — this was the year we learned to love Stephen A. And that is a freeing, liberating brave new world.
Allow me to provide a caveat up top here: Smith is still perfectly capable of delivering an atrocious take every now and then. His recent brouhaha with J.R. Smith over the unprofessionalism of wearing hoodies on the bench is a real collar-tugger, and let’s try to forget his one-man war against the sticky icky. But by and large, we now know who Smith is, and can enjoy his one-of-a-kind, larger than life personality, rather than just cringing through him screaming at Bayless, who is a sort of human wailing wall, but for sh*t-talking LeBron James.